Monday, September 13, 2010

Message in a bottle from (Carol) Gilligan's Island

Carol Gilligan is a well established writer on human development and gender issues.

One of her most available illustrations of gender differences came from the playground. She noticed that boys were more concerned with playing the game by its rules, and girls were more concerned with the impact of the game on the feelings and relationships of those who played.

The conventional wisdom, which I am not saying is Gilligan's but which cited her as it emerged, is that the "boy" approach is inherently bad - legalistic, uncaring and oppressive. The obvious corollary is that the "girl" approach is inherently good.

A healthier view is that "boy" and "girl" are meant to complement, balance and complete each other. But because the "boy is bad" riff is so uncritically accepted, let me give you a glimpse into the "girl" extreme, the Episcopal Church.

Not to go all Jungian on you, but our denomination's "girl" approach has a shadow side. In a time of denominational decline and conflict, rules are set aside as too confining, and we throw ourselves on "relational" approaches such as "dialogue" and "pastoral reconciliation." These sound sweet and tender, but they simply replace accessible and consistent rules with decision by "Who I like and who likes me."

I am in a church denomination where this debased "girl" approach is fully embraced by an increasingly small and homogeneous leadership clique. Our Diocesan clergy deployment officer, back from a national meeting, said that the Episcopal Church projects an all-female clergy in the not so distant future. The Presiding Bishop of the denomination and its ranking lay officer are women. One seminary is run by a lesbian who goes around making speeches about the "holy work" of abortion. The "gate keepers" to ordination and to positions of authority in the church are an increasingly small group of women.

Have they brought peace, harmony and vital community to the denomination?

No, just the opposite. Record numbers of sanctions - many of them with questionable application of church law - have been imposed on clergy. About 10% of the denomination's active members have left to form a separate denominational structure. Millions of mission and ministry dollars are being cannibalized from the denominational budget to sue these dissenters, in cases sprawling all over the country. The denomination's members are the oldest and among the whitest, most affluent and most female in America. "Relational" correlates with monochrome.

Lest you think I'm engaging in impressionistic generalities, here's something more concrete: the denomination just changed its disciplinary rules to massively expand the Presiding Bishop's subjective authority over the church, while calling it "pastoral reconciliation."

This has been accomplished with very little public discussion. It is very much a product of "we know best" insiders and their "relational" networks. I have info from last weekend's Diocese of South Dakota Convention that a resolution conforming Diocesan Canons to the national changes appeared with very little public scrutiny and was passed amidst the flurry of business.

Episcopal Church historians rightly point out the denomination's long record of women doing all the hard work while male figureheads took all the credit based on organizational titles and rules. Bad "boy" approach.

Now, we have a "girl" approach in which there are no rules, just an inner circle of friends who run things based on their feelings. That ranking lay woman I mentioned said this in a discussion of who should take responsibility for the denomination's out-of-budget lawsuit spending:

"Let’s say it’s not an either/or – it’s a both/and – find God’s abundance. Call on the Holy Spirit to make her presence known. We set the mindset of the [church legislative bodies]."

It's not a church - it's your worst nightmare of a home owner's association board or a sorority on the verge of closing.


The Underground Pewster said...

Its too late Tim, the gurlz has took the club howze, painted over our rulz, and hung up curtainz.

Anonymous said...

I saw something fascinating while watching MTV a bunch of years ago. They were doing reality shows pitting boys against girls doing different tasks/challenges, like solving puzzles, etc. (Probably Real World/Road Rules) The losing team would have to choose someone to drop from the team and send home. The boys team ignored feelings and decided to send the weakest person/the person that screwed up the most home, while the girls decided to pick the loser on the basis of what they felt was appropriate for the team, and fairness. Well, the girls' method ended up being arbitrary and cutthroat, and personal, while the boys accepted the fairness and responsibility of their individual failures. So while the girls stressed fairness and feelings, they ended up ripping each other apart, while the boys, ignoring feelings, ended up with a happy, tight, and successful group.

Anonymous said...

happy, tight, and successful group over several different seasons.

TLF+ said...

Anon - really good illustration.

When it comes to the church, a legalistic approach that throws the weak away goes against what Jesus taught. It becomes the "religion" of those who grumbled when Jesus joined the tax collectors and sinners at the dinner table.

But the other model, of endless, narcissistic exploration of feelings as ends in themselves, takes Christ entirely out of the picture. It really devolves into idolatry.